Morrissey charms Boston faithful at House of Blues

A review of Morrissey at the House of Blues on March 29, 2009

, Staff Writer

It’s hard to escape just how influential an artist Morrissey has become: after gaining enough notoriety to last him a lifetime in his time with The Smiths, in the twenty-two years that have followed the band’s break up he has built a solo career that still produces top-ten singles and draws huge crowds wherever he goes. It’s no surprise, then, that when Morrissey came to the House of Blues on Sunday he attracted an audience that quickly sold out the massive venue. Backed by an experienced and tight band, he put on a performance that left everyone in the crowd pleased, providing solo material just as good as anything produced with The Smiths as well as peppering in some old favorites for longtime fans.

He kicked things off with a performance of “This Charming Man”, a tune immediately recognizable and a clear favorite of most Smiths fans. The song was a more or less faithful rendition of how it was remembered, but right from the start Morrissey dominated the stage, strutting back and forth, sticking his neck out into the crowd, offering his hand to those down below reaching up desperately. Vocally, the man still has great chops: he slides through the song with no effort, nailing the high notes, adding just a touch of vibrato when needed or laying it on thick at more intense moments.

His solo stuff, mostly pulled from his newest release Years of Refusal, is just as good as any of his Smiths output, if not better, since the band behind him seemed put together with his solo material in mind more than anything else. “Something Is Squeezing My Skull” is a fine blend of Smiths-esque sounds with touches of shoegaze and straight rock, ending with a victorious and noisy mass of screaming guitars. Of course, his dark and on occasion sardonic lyrics were out in full force on this night: “Life is nothing much to lose, it’s just so lonely here without you” he crooned in “Mama Lay Softly On The Riverbed”, a song that let the band really show their depth: robotic sounds whirred up and down during the bridge, sharp strings swelled as the drummer laid down a persistent march beat,& and the guitar played a simple melody during the chorus atop rising major chords.

“The one nice thing about life,” Morrissey quipped into the microphone in between songs, “and it’s only one thing, is that, where songs are concerned, everything vibrates.” In spite of being definitely fifty years old, Morrissey presented the sexuality of a man half that age all night, his vocals oozing out of the speakers. “I’m Throwing My Arm Around Paris” blended Morrissey’s own style with just a touch of the old crooners like Sinatra, though more intricately layered, and minus a horn section. Keeping with his usual demeanor, Morrissey took time to talk about how, in spite of the venue having two kitchens, the “House of Rules” refused to provide him with some brown rice and vegetables for the long drive that the band had in front of them, which drew a lot of boos from the crowd. The House of Blues, it seems, still doesn’t quite have their act entirely together.

One of the finest moments of the concert came in the middle with a performance of “Seasick, Yet Still Docked”, a cut from 1992’s Your Arsenal. By far the mellowest song of the set, Morrissey sang about being “so far from where I intended to go.” Acoustic guitar provided the backbone, strumming wistfully throughout the song while Morrissey sang plaintively, and at every chorus the song would rise to Slowdive levels of dreamy, spacey synths swirling up and up with the electric guitar, the drummer providing a simple 3-beat pattern. At the end, the song simply faded away, a lovely contrast to the fairly dense sounds that filled the room just seconds ago. “Death of a Disco Dancer” was another Smiths song the crowd was regaled with, everyone singing “Love, peace and harmony” happily. I guess they chose to forget the lyrics that follow.

The set ended with what is also the closing track on Years of Refusal, “I’m OK By Myself”. It was an appropriate way to close the performance: after so many melancholy and lonely lyrics, Morrissey wanted to let us know that he was actually just fine with how he was doing. “I don’t need you or your homespun philosophy,” he said, and it’s believable. This is a man whose acceptance of himself and the world around him is quite apparent even before a note has been played. After Morrissey’s grand statement of being okay, the band built up to a raucous point of noise before collapsing, leaving the bassist to end things with about a minute or playing his line repetitively before the lights went out. As an encore, the band performed “First Of The Gang To Die”, a very Smiths-flavored cut from 2004’s You Are The Quarry.

Often it’s hard to see once-great musicians past their prime give a performance, however good they may have been back in the day. Morrissey clearly has not chosen to burn out (as opposed to fade away) and put on a show with enough energy at age fifty to make us young’uns look up and pay some attention. He’s stated in the past that he doesn’t see himself performing past the age of fifty-five, so we’ve got maybe five more years of these fine performances before Morrissey may be calling it quits, and he’s one guy who would totally not pull a “comeback” after being away for a little while, so get your kicks in while you can. Morrissey is revered as much as he is for a reason, and he absolutely deserves to be seen live.

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